Tokyo Report

Abe Won’t Be There for China’s War Commemorative Parade, But Murayama Will Be

Tomiichi Murayama, the Japanese prime minister who set the benchmark for apology, will be in Beijing on September 3.

Abe Won’t Be There for China’s War Commemorative Parade, But Murayama Will Be
Credit: Flickr/ ian smith3

In case you missed it, my colleague Shannon Tiezzi put together a handy compilation of the 30 heads of state and other notable figures expected to attend China’s September 3 military parade to commemorate victory in the “War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.” The display will come just 18 days after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered his long-awaited address on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s decision to surrender in the Second World War. Abe, unsurprisingly, won’t attend the Chinese display of military bravado, which will equally celebrate China’s triumph in the war as it will strive to humiliate Japan. However, the event won’t be without Japanese representation. Tomiichi Murayama, Japan’s Prime Minister from 1994 to 1996 and the author of the “Murayama Statement” on the 50th anniversary of the war, will be in attendance. If China’s reaction in the wake of the Abe statement didn’t adequately convey Beijing’s dissatisfaction, Murayama’s attendance at the parade will certainly send a message.

A bit of background: Tomiichi Murayama was one of the few Japanese prime ministers to emerge from outside of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the party that has largely dominated post-war Japanese politics. Murayama, a leftist and a socialist, was in office at the right time. With the 50th anniversary of the war falling during his time in office, he seized the opportunity to deliver a historic speech which is now regarded as the benchmark apology for other Japanese prime ministerial statements on subsequent decennials of the war’s end. Ahead of the Abe statement, for example, experts correctly noted that Abe would strive to include four key terms that made Murayama’s statement so remarkable: “aggression,” “colonial domination,” “deep remorse,” and “apology.” Abe managed to do so, but largely in the wrong context.

Murayama confirmed that he’d attend Beijing’s September celebrations far in advance. In April, Murayama told the Japan Times that if he were to be formally invited, he’d attend. Evidently, that panned out. What makes Murayama’s presence more interesting is his tepid reaction to the Abe statement. As the benchmark-setter for Japanese prime ministerial apologies, when Murayama, on August 15, said that he thought Abe’s statement was “hard to understand what he was trying to get at since the focus of his address was blurred,” it’s more than a slight embarrassment for the Abe administration. Murayama’s assessment of the statement was stark: “[The statement] did not deny [the 1995 statement] nor adhere to it,” he noted. “He should not have issued the statement in the first place,” Murayama added, continuing that “It was hard to understand what he was trying to get at since the focus of his address was blurred.”

Murayama’s attendance will add some heft to China’s official reaction to the Abe statement. The Chinese foreign ministry wasted little time in noting what Abe should have said: “Japan should have made an explicit statement on the nature of the war of militarism and aggression and its responsibility on the wars, made sincere apology to the people of victim countries, and made a clean break with the past of militarist aggression, rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle,” Hua Chunying, a ministry spokesperson, noted after the statement. With Murayama in Beijing on September 3, not only will China get to stage a triumphant show reminding the world of the horrors inflicted by Japanese aggression but it will have a living example of the sort of leadership it would ideally liked to have seen from the Abe government.

None of this is to say that Murayama made the wrong call in choosing to attend the celebrations. The 91-year-old former prime minister has been remarkably active in the region since his short term ended. He has spent time in South Korea, meeting with former “comfort women” and working to address the historical gaps that continue to keep Japan’s Northeast Asian neighbors from seeing it as a trustworthy contemporary actor in the region. In short, Murayama, post-retirement, has been an important agent of goodwill in a region unable to extricate its contemporary situation from history.